Joy and excitement filled a perfect day on Nov. 27 at Woodward Park in Fresno when the state’s best 2,007 high school distance runners gathered for the California Cross Country Championships. Brilliant performances broke records, especially the amazing Newbury Park boys team’s Division 1 win with a near-perfect 16 points. The majority of teens who didn’t win medals still achieved personal records, pride and memories that will last a lifetime. 

Good news happened outdoors in 2021, as large group events like running races, bike rides and triathlons returned from a pandemic hiatus. Athletes registered sensational achievements in multiple pursuits. Here are a few that stand out. 

Timothy Olson, 37, ran the entire 2,650 Pacific Crest Trail in 51 days, averaging 52 miles a day. “Know that you are more powerful than you can ever imagine,” he told admirers after reaching the Canadian border. 

Jordan Moon, 33, ran 3,127 miles from San Francisco to New York in 71 days, averaging 44 miles a day, raising $20,000 for brain disease research and dedicating his effort to mental health. “No matter how hard times get, you can get through those tough times,” he said. 

In a 12-hour effort, 14-year-old James Savage became the youngest person to swim across the full 21.3-mile length of Lake Tahoe. 

Jack Greener, 26, overcame a spinal cord injury and two broken vertebrae in his neck to climb 14,505-foot Mount Whitney. His fellow climbers erupted in cheers when he reached the summit and broke into tears of joy. 

Yosemite, as usual, saw astonishing exploits. Skiers Jason Torlano, 45, and Zach Milligan, 40, made the first known full descent of Half Dome. The daring duo risked avalanches and fatal falls as they negotiated perilously steep slopes between the summit and Mirror Lake, nearly 5,000 feet below. 

Brothers Moises Monterrubio, 26, and Daniel Monterrubio, 23, led a group effort to rig and walk a highline at Taft Point, high above Yosemite Valley, for 2,800 feet. Their trek through the sky set a distance record for both Yosemite and California. 

And Dierdre Wolownick, 70, became the oldest woman to climb El Capitan. She and friends celebrated her birthday by ascending fixed lines with jumar ascending tools. Wolonick began scaling rocks ten years earlier to get closer to her son, climbing superstar Alex Honnold. Her group toasted champagne and camped on the summit. “I’ll never top that as a camping experience or a birthday party,” she declared. 

Map Makeover, revisited

California’s map makeover, a years-long effort to replace offensive place names with more inclusive ones, revved up in the year after George Floyd’s murder. 

Squaw Valley changed its name to Palisades Tahoe after the ski resort acknowledged the racism and sexism of its former title. U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland declared “squaw” an offensive term and moved to change hundreds of racist and offensive federal landmark names.

Sue-meg State Park became the name of a coastal spot in Humboldt County previously called Patrick’s Point; a Yurok name replaced the name of accused killer Patrick Beegan.

Alameda renamed a park which honored President Andrew Jackson, who enslaved hundreds and forced the Cherokee on the deadly Trail of Tears; Chochenyo Park now carries a local Indigenous name. 

Just east of Yosemite, Highway 120 became Chiura Obata Great Nature Memorial Highway, honoring an artist who created breathtaking artwork of the region.

And a new Concord park carries the name “Thurgood Marshall Regional Park — Home of the Port Chicago 50,” honoring the Supreme Court justice and WWII-era servicemen who objected to racist and deadly military policies.

Other highlights

Far from California, President Biden and Congress passed a bipartisan infrastructure package that benefits the Golden State’s parks and forests. The law includes $1.7 billion for the National Park Service roads, bridges, wildlife protection and climate adaptations, and $3.3 billion for wildfire management. 

May your columnist include a few personal highlights? Racing the Boston Marathon felt great; the crowd was even more enthusiastic than I expected. Amazing scenery and people made hiking two weeks on the Pacific Crest Trail delightful; I’ve got about 2,000 miles to go. I enjoyed summiting Mount Langley, my sixth of California’s 14ers, leaving nine more to climb. And I’m happy to have finished “California Summits,” a guide to summit hikes throughout the Golden State which involved years of joyful effort to produce. 

Of course we shouldn’t completely overlook the hardships which impacted the outdoors, including drought, wildfires and Covid-19. Together these tragedies hurt millions. As usual, the outdoor community suffered losses, like Philip Kreycik, the 37-year-old who died after running in Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park on July 10, possibly of heatstroke. 

Thousands of supporters assisted a 24-day search for the Berkeley ultramarathoner, a group effort unmatched in memory. Though the searchers were unable to save Kreycik, they eventually succeeded in finding his remains a few hundred yards off-trail, bringing closure to his family. Most of those who combed the park for weeks had never met him. 

Their tireless effort to help a stranger reminded me of the community spirit prevalent in outdoors circles. Folks out there help each other, and they are good people to have around in both good and tougher times.  

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Picture of Matt Johanson

Matt Johanson

Matt Johanson lives in Castro Valley and authored “Sierra Summits: A Guide to 50 Peak Experiences in California’s Range of Light,” winner of a National Outdoor Book Award.


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